Sandra Onwuekwe is a Medical Doctor and an Entrepreneur. She is the co-founder of Ecoprune, a social enterprise promoting waste recycling among households, schools and organisations and, teaching recycling and waste sorting to their subscribers.
Not only that, Ecoprune is involved in the collection of recyclables like plastics, cans, papers etc from subscribers and, incentives like cash, household items etc, are given in return. According to her, they also have training for schools and organisations and help set up recycling systems.
On why she left medicine for entrepreneurship, she says, “I won’t say I left medicine. I still work in public health. I realised in my 3rd year that I didn’t want to be in Clinical Medicine. We have a system in Nigeria where every doctor is supposed to be in Clinical Medicine. This is so wrong! There are so many aspects to Medicine- ICT in Health, Health Policy, Health management, Entrepreneurship etc. I just decided to take other routes to Medicine”.
Naturally, Nigerian parents may not take this decision lightly, however, Sandra’s parents happen to be different. “My parents were very supportive and still are. Some of my relatives don’t understand my choice. But I don’t care! My parents are good. I am good!”, she says.
But has it been worth her while? “Overtly worth my while! I am so glad I made the choice. It wasn’t easy deciding to start Ecoprune but it has been worth it. The people I have met, things I have learnt, new friends and networks etc. I have been exposed to a world I probably won’t have seen and known if I was a clinician. I am indeed grateful and thankful”.
Ecoprune as a social enterprise helps to create jobs and opportunities for people. According to Sandra, Ecoprune not just pays the people employed but also, other dependants and that for her is a success story and makes her realise just how important it is.
Running a business is never a bed of roses as one can almost always expect to encounter hurdles, so what was Sandra’s first hurdle in business? “Our first staff was a disaster. It is so difficult to find good people. But we learnt from the experience and have moved on”. “The staff was not performing duties optimally. Gave excuses every week for not meeting the target. Hiring the person was a waste of our time and funds but we learnt from the experience”, she continues.
One wonders if doing business in Nigeria is easy especially in her field of waste recycling. “No!” She admits. “In as much as the government is trying to make doing business easy, we are still miles away. For instance, we have to pay for licenses to run our business and these licences are so expensive. Where are small businesses like mine expected to cough out such fees in our startup phase? I think a lot of work needs to be done by the government, not just talking!”
The reception of Ecoprune among people has been highly encouraging, “It’s a new culture for a lot of Nigerians to sort their waste from source. Some people find it fantastic! Others think it’s too stressful and some don’t see the need. But we know what we do is very important to safeguard the environment and protect the future of our children to come. So they don’t swim in the waste and rot left by their parents”, she says.
She explains further that people are motivated to subscribe to Ecoprune through their incentives. “We give cash or other incentives on a kilogram basis. So when we collect your recyclables as I earlier mentioned, we weigh and ascribe a currency we have called ‘Ecocoins’ which can then be used to redeem cash or other incentives”. However, she mentions that wastes can only be collected in Ikeja, Egbeda, Igando, Ikotun, Iyanaipaja, Surulere, Lekki, Ikoyi and Victoria Island, and plans are being made to expand to other areas.
It would interest you to know that Ecoprune is not seeking investors. “We are currently not seeking investors. We will be needing them much later when we need to raise large capital. Now we are using funds from our revenue, grants, friends and families and may consider loans”.
On her plans for Ecoprune in the next five years, she says, “We want to be in five states and should have set up a materials recovery facility where proper waste sorting from source is being done and waste collected is not co-mingled, meaning organic waste is not mixed with recyclables. It’s ambitious but we are working towards the milestones”. She concludes.